Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Strong, Independent Heroine…or Just a Bitch?

So, if you’ve met me or read my work, you know I love a great “strong female lead.” I love to write (and read!) about kick-ass ladies who get shit done, take names, and are just all-around fierce. And I’m not just talking about Lara Croft, here. They can be kick-ass in any sphere, and words are sometimes the best weapon of all. They can wear dresses, be mothers, have tea, or fight in the octagon and snipe people.

“Why the ‘Just a Bitch?’ line, then?” you’re thinking. Well, here it is. One of my many pet peeves is writers mistaking bitchiness for “being independent.”

So there I was, reading a suspense novel. There’s the strong female lead, let’s call her “Bess.” Bess is a private investigator, but her specialty is really finding and tracking people and things in cyberspace. She’s a tough cookie, she packs a SIG Sauer in an ankle holster, she won’t take no for an answer, and she helps battered women find new identities and escape abusive situations (as pro bono work). She goes after the bad guys like it’s her mission.

She sounds great, right?

Nope. What she actually is, is argumentative, antagonistic, overly-sensitive with a super short fuse and no regard for other people. Oh, and the type to walk off whenever she’s upset and not communicate.

In walks the male lead. (Poor bastard) Let’s call him “David.” (That one’s for you, Dave Medinnus!) Now, David is a detective with over a decade of experience, and he’s a damn fine one.

So Bess can’t get in touch with one of her clients and is convinced that the woman has been murdered. (With no evidence) She goes to David (whom she met once before) and insist he investigate the case (with no evidence). Never thinking, “gee, he’s an insanely over-worked detective who might not want to be doing cases on the sly and getting fired.” When he’s skeptical about this being an actual case,  (because there’s no body, no blood, no evidence, and oh yeah, the woman has been in hiding for 6 months) Bess blows up at him and is all “I can’t believe you don’t believe me!” and huffs off.

Flash-forward a day, David’s worked his actual job all day and night, getting sucker punched by a gang-banger and having to go to a body dump, all that, with paperwork up the wazoo. She calls him THAT NEXT DAY to see what he’s dug up on her “missing” client yet. When he says he hasn’t had time to look into it yet, Bess blows up at him with “I can’t believe a woman’s life means that little to you! Fine, if you’re ‘too busy’ …” and yaddie yaddie.

So the next day, he somehow does manage to investigate the supposed missing person of Bess’s (and finds out that the few leads Bess thought she had were actually duds.) So he tells her that, and she flips out on him again for not believing her.

Then, of course, she goes out and does stupid things on her own because “I don’t need a man’s help!” Uh, gee, Bess, might you maybe need the help of a person actually trained to do these things, maybe? Just…annoying. So, she gets in trouble like an idiot. Then Dave (who, for some unknown reason, cares about her) expresses concern over her getting injured and she blows up at him, “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” and “Maybe if you actually did your job…” and yaddie.

Just…hold on a sec, Bess. How can you NOT see this from Dave’s side?

Speaking of…during this entire novel David is getting about 2 hours of sleep a night, running around doing his real detective job and being exhausted. After one of the times Bess blows up at him for no good reason, she then won’t answer his calls for 3 days. Then, Sunday morning comes, David’s ONE morning to sleep in and he had only gotten in at 4 am that morning. She shows up a 6 am (after not talking to him for 3 days) and is like, “Hey, buddy. Let’s hang out. Want to go for a jog with me?”
If I was David, at this point I’d be like, “No, lady. You’re the most obnoxious, aggressive, selfish, self-righteous idiot I’ve ever met. Also, I just told you I’d only slept 2 hours, and you still think I should spend my time with you this morning? F off.” And finish it off with slamming the door shut, clicking all the locks as loudly as possible, and going the heck right back to bed without one single regret.

It’s obnoxiously bitchy characters like this that make people sometimes groan when they hear the words, “Oh!, this book’s got a strong female lead.”

And that breaks my heart, because it just makes it that much harder for strong female leads to get the attention they deserve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Continuing Battle for Gender Equality

So for my day job, I am employed by Nasdaq, a corporate giant. They (perhaps surprisingly) have a great corporate drive for diversity in the workplace. Today I had the chance to watch a panel discussion on the topic of “Women on Boards: Pathway to Directorship.”(meaning boards of directors) (Don’t worry, this post won’t be all business-speak) Hearing these incredibly accomplished and experienced women talk about women in management/director roles really got me thinking about how women are raised and considered by males.

The panel opened the talk with a discussion of regulations in Norway and other parts of Europe that require a certain percentage of board members to be female. I believe it was Norway that has instituted a policy that 40% of the people on boards been to be female. Woah.

Personally, I dislike this idea. In theory, it could force a board to put under-qualified people on the board in order to meet this quota. (A similar discussion takes place about the implications Affirmative Action in the education system). But both of these bring up the real issue—women are underprepared to take on executive roles, which can be linked to how we view females even when they’re children.

More on that in a minute.

One of the things the panel discussed was what happened when they, as board members, approached women candidates and asked them to join a particular board. In more than one instance, the women declined the offer because they didn’t feel confident accepting a new role that they weren’t already perfect at. They lacked the confidence to take on this new challenge. For comparison, the several panelists said “we’ve never been turned down by a male candidate.”

That brings up the issue that women lack confidence, both in general, but especially in executing in male-dominated worlds. This also, imo, leads back to how we as a society raise our girls.

Another item mentioned was the fact that among women who did have positions on boards, the majority of them had titles that are considered “support” roles, such as being a CFO, CMO, COO and so on, but very few were CEOs. There’s a distinct lack of women in CEO roles.

Another often mentioned idea was networking/mentoring. All of the women on the panel felt that in the workplace the men had a built-in networking system that groomed male employees for advancement and kept them on the path for career advancement. Women were left out of that network. It’s a holdover from the “good ole boy” “boys’ club” days that refuse to die.

Those days and their holdovers need to die.

When asked in the opening of the panel what the barriers were that kept women out of board rooms, the answer was “Attitudes. That’s the only issue. Male attitudes about the ability of women, their competency and all that. Once attitudes change, we won’t have this issue.”

As far as networking/mentors, it was generally agreed that mentoring was effective, but what surprised me (and it really shouldn’t have) was that most of the panelists STRONGLY recommended that women who wanted to be on a board have male mentors. To me, this is still part of the problem. It’s basically saying, “If you want to get in, you need to find a way in to the boys’ club of boards.” It basically says, “yeah, women are mentoring each other on being more proactive and confident, and that’s helpful, but if you want to get in, you still need to tap into that boys’ club network.”

The business network between women is growing, but in reality, it lacks the power of the male network. They just don’t hold positions of power in order to leverage the same level of benefit.

What was depressing about the panel was the realization that most of the women on the panel had gotten their board positions from a “lucky chance” sort of situation. So, say a woman had somehow gotten onto a board. All of the panelists got their initial roles on a board b/c that first woman on the board happened to know them and specifically offered a hand-up to their fellow female. What came across to me was that most of the women on boards had gotten their positions based on really-lucky-networking, not straight-up talent/competencies.

So to me, all of this comes back to how we, as a society, raise our children and shape our young women. This is a collective effort, this takes all of us. This takes changes at all levels and all areas of society.

The most important item that came out of this panel, for me, was the lack of confidence women had in themselves and their ability to tackle new situations. This isn’t something we can fix at the corporate level by writing laws saying that businesses need to have X% of women in their management structure. This needs to be addressed at a much earlier moment, when we’re all young girls, vulnerable to all of the pressures of society.

Girls need to be encouraged to purse ANY and ALL avenues that interest them. I’m not just talking about STEM initiatives, which are VERY crucial, but let’s talk about business skills, entrepreneurial skills, economics, and so on. Let’s get all of us—parents, educators, society—encouraging girls to take on ANY and EVERYTHING. Science, Math, Tech, Business, Arts, Social Studies, History, etc. Women and girls can do it all. Encourage them. Help them. Support them. We need to EMPOWER our young girls.

If we want diversity at the highest level, this needs to start at the lowest level.

This is making me think of Dove’s awesome ad/social interest campaign about “Like aGirl”
Also captured in this meme:

I’m talking about making a change at the VERY BEGINNING of life. Gender roles are sharply defined at way too young of an age in our society.

I’m thinking about Goldie Blox, who had an awesome Goldie Blox Super Bowlcommercial where girls took all of their “pink” toys and built a rocket ship out of them. The ad slogan for the campaign was “Tools for Future Innovators.” Not “Tools for Girls” or “Boy-Type Toys for Girls.” It was acknowledging that girls are future innovators, irregardless of gender. They don’t have to be “girls who are like boys” they are just themselves, girls who like building block toys. I really like the quote on Goldie Blox site:

Hell yeah.

My main point here is that we need to break down our idea of “being a girl” and get rid of it. We need to treat young girls and boys as people, and stop training them so hard in their gender strengths and weaknesses.

I grew up being called a tomboy, and as a child I was proud of that fact, and therein, I believe, lies the root of the problem. As a child, I knew that all girls were girls. But as a tomboy, I was something MORE than a girl. I was faster, stronger, fiercer, more independent. Did they call me a Kick-ass Girl? No. They called me a TomBOY. As is, you’re better than a girl, b/c you’re like the boys, too! The equation I learned? Boy traits > Girl traits. If I could have both traits as a girl, then I could almost make up for the fact that I wasn’t born a boy.

As an adult, I realize this idea is horrific. What I want is for young girls today to have no notion of the idea that the hierarchy of worth goes: girls < girls who can fit into the boys’ club < boys.

I’ve babbled on enough for today (and I could keep going!) but I want to close out with a quick piece on one of my fave people on the planet, John Stewart, and his comments on Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn Jenner. (Way to go, Caitlyn! I am so happy for you that you can be yourself, finally!)

Here is a briefsum up of John Stewart’s bit on how, now that Caitlyn Jenner is officially a woman, she can look forward to being objectified and judged for her looks all the time now, like the rest of us women.



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Trailer -- The Empress Game

Without too much fanfare, here is the book trailer for the first novel in The Empress Game trilogy, also titled, The Empress Game.


The video was put together by the superbly talented Sheila Clover English at Circle of Seven Productions.

Here is the back cover copy of the novel:

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled, that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat in the ancient tradition. Now that tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the females of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reinumon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena.

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

Pre-order it at or Barnes & Noble!

Theme in a Novel – Does Your Choice Really Matter?

I’m not a person who thinks a lot about theme in a novel. When I dissect why I did or did not enjoy a book, you usually hear me discuss, above all things, believable character motivation. (And a decided lack thereof). Many books suffer from the “why didn’t they just do XYZ, which would have been SO much easier and more straightforward?” syndrome. The author answer is, sadly, “Because then there wouldn’t have been a story, silly!” but that’s just terrible. Honestly, I’ll follow any rickety plot if you convince me that the character is realistically motivated to make the plot decisions they’re making.

After that, I’ll critique plot holes, pacing (for sure!) and the writing. But you’ll never hear me say, “I thought the theme was weak” or “I don’t think the author made full use of the theme.” For me as a reader, theme is only working on my subconscious. (Which is not to say that there aren’t books that have totally NAILED theme. There are tons of them. I just don’t notice that element.)

So when I started to work on a broad outline for The Empress Game’s books 2 and 3—using Libbie Hawker's book on plotting called Take Off Your Pants—and it called for coming up with a theme, I was a little stumped.

This recalled me to a recurring discussion about theme that I keep having with one of my critique partners, the lovely and talented Jen Brooks. She has a fantastic YA contemporary fantasy novel out this year, In a World Just Right.

She wrote an introspective and generous blog post about the difference between a “romance novel” and a “love story.” (Don’t get me going on this debate! We disagree ;-) But her great post is here)

She asked me once what I thought the theme of her novel was, because she constantly struggled against her publisher’s classification of her novel as a “YA Romance.” (She considers it a SF novel with romantic elements). I love the book, but I have to admit, I agree with the publisher. To me, the principle motivator of Jonathan’s actions in the book is his love for Kylie. He wants to do what’s best for her, even when it goes against all of his best interests.

When I told her that, though, she told me what her actual theme was, what message she wanted to get across. It was a great theme, don’t get me wrong, but I have to admit, that wasn’t the message I got from the book. I obviously took my own personal experience and viewed the book through that lens. What I saw was profound, but, as I learned, very different from what the author intended.

This brings me to my 2 points. (And what Take Off Your Pants got me thinking about.)

1)      The only person who really knows what the theme of the book is, is the author. Which, being a fact, is why I don’t enjoy the literary analysis side of English degrees. (And why I mastered in “Writing” instead of “Literature”)

More importantly, to me, is the thought occurring to me today:

2)      It doesn’t matter what theme the author intended. It only matters what the reader takes away from the story.

In the end, you can’t control that. You can try, but everyone’s filters are so strong that invariably your theme will be washed through the experience of your readers’ lives until it (sometimes even) becomes unrecognizable to you.

And that is perfectly fine. After all, as commercial authors, we write to share our stories with others, we don’t just write for ourselves.

I recently met a friend of James’s, and he said that his wife had written an SF novel but she was so shy about it she wouldn’t even let him read it. I offered to help her with the insanity of starting on an agent search and tell her what I’ve learned about the business so far, and her husband said she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to try to sell it. I told him, without any doubt, that I knew, without even meeting her, that she wanted to sell it (or share it at least).

We don’t write a story down for ourselves. We already know the story. It’s in our mind, it keeps us awake, we live and breathe the characters. The reason we slave to capture the essence of the story and these characters on the page is because we are storytellers, yarn-spinners, and we long to share to story with at least that one soul who will “get it.”

I’ve gone totally afield from my topic of theme, but, welcome to the workings of my brain. ;-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Post-Traumatic Stress is Not a Disorder

So I was listening to NPR the other day and heard a correspondent say, in passing, that they are dropping the “D” from PTSD and that it will just be called PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress) these days, not Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I wanted to put in my two cents and say I whole-heartedly support this decision. It is not a mental disorder to have a mix of anxiety, depression and anger after a major traumatic event. (In most cases, we’re talking about war-time experiences, a rape, and things equally horrifying). After the shit some people have gone through, it is totally normal and natural to have those reactions. I would be more concerned by people who saw and dealt with death and near-death situations *without* being messed up by it.

Thumbs up to the military/psych community for beginning to change this language. The only damage such a change might bring is if insurance companies somehow find ways to weasel out of paying for the treatment of PTS because it is no longer “technically” a “disorder.” But I have (some) faith that the people in charge are smart enough to see their way around the dropping of one word from a diagnosis, and realizing that treatment is still needed, all the same.

The Washington Post released an article with a good discussion on whether PTS is more like a bullet wound or a bipolar/depressive mental disorder.

PTS is an issue I’m exploring with my character, Vayne, who (in my novel) is a mental/physical torture survivor. It’s one thing to handle the topic in fiction, but the reality for many people in the real world is much, much worse. My heart goes out to all of those who struggle with PTS daily.

Time Magazine had a short online article on the topic, you can find it here:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

COVER REVEAL: The Empress Game – Debut Space Opera

It’s finally here, the long-anticipated cover for my space opera/science fiction novel The Empress Game!

I love everything about it. They couldn't have captured Kayla, the female protagonist, any more perfectly.

Here’s the back of the book blurb:

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled, that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage, it’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat in the ancient tradition. Now that tournament–the Empress Game–has been called, and the females of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds.

The battle for political power isn't contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a political dance that will shape the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

The Empress Game is set to release in July 2015.

Pre-order The Empress Game at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Add The Empress Game to your “To be Read” shelf at Goodreads

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

This week the fabulous Jen Brooks tagged me in to do a post on my writing process. Check out her answers to the questions here:

And here are the questions!

1)      What am I working on?

I am working on the sequel to my debut novel, a space opera titled Empress Game. This will be the second in a trilogy and is called Cloak of War. It follows Kayla and her family of psionics in their fight to free their homeworld from occupation by the Sakien Empire.

2)      How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In a genre with ray guns, plasma rockets, ion pistols and so forth, there can be a lot of shoot outs. I like to bring the more personal elements of fighting into the action, and include gritty hand to hand combat in my novels. I like to showcase martial arts and the use of a good old-fashioned head butt to bring immediacy to the character’s struggles.

I also have kick-butt female protagonists, willing to sacrifice everything in their dedication to their goals. Now if only the men could keep up with them! ;-)

3)      Why do I write what I do?

I write speculative fiction (and space opera in particular, in this case) because it gives me freedom to explore any plot I want because the world-building is in my hands. If I want to see how a character would react to sudden freedom of choice after being the victim of mind-control for 5 years, I can create a sci-fi world in which that kind of set-up is possible. (Cloak of War is exploring that very topic!)

I also write kick-butt female heroes because a) there are just too few of them in literature/movies, b) I love to explore the strengths, mental and physical, of women, and see what they can do when driven to the edge, then past it. I have a lot of strong female role models in my family, and that’s just what comes natural to me, writing a character strong enough in her own way to meet and master any challenge.

4)      How does my individual writing process work?

Oh man, I could write a book on this topic! Honestly, and I suspect this is true of most writers, my processes is an amalgam of all types.

I do my best writing when I’ve already outlined. I love outlining. With an outline in hand, I can tackle a scene and only worry about the words, not also having to come up with the plot at the same time. Ideally I’d outline all the time.

But, I’m impatient, and a little lazy. Sometimes things don’t come to me. I have no idea what happens in the plot next. In that case, the only way to shake loose the story is to write. I put one word in front of the other, painfully sometimes, just typing and telling myself, “I can always rewrite this later.” I say, “Okay, write 500 words and see what happens.”

Sometimes they’re crap and I get nowhere ;-) But usually, it gets me going and slowly the wheels of plotting start to turn again. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. If you’re “blocked,” then you’re just not being versatile enough in your process. If one avenue isn’t working, attack it from a different direction: outline, free write, take a walk while musing on it, listen to suitable music, do a mock interview with your characters, read a book on writing craft (this usually gets me crackin’), try word association, write a list of things you don’t  know yet, and start thinking of the answers.

I like that last one a lot. Don’t ask yourself “what happens next,” ask “what would happen if she just gave up here?” or “Why is my villain so angry?” or “How does the nanovirus I’ve created actually work, on a scientific level?” Thinking of these details gets you going on how they affect the plot.

In the end I’d say my process is outlining whenever I can, and knowing that I need to utilize every other process at some point in the creation of a novel to keep me going.

Want to hear what two other great authors have to say to these questions? Check out:

Inline image 1

Writer/Producer Diana Dru Botsford's work runs the gamut from novels to the screen including several Stargate SG-1 novels, the Star Trek TNG episode, "Rascal's" and the award-winning science fiction webseries "Epilogue."  She most recently contributed to the up-and-coming Stargate short story anthology, "Far Horizons," due from Fandemonium this fall. Check out her answers here:

And fellow Southwest Florida Romance Writer Patty Campbell

Patty Campbell has just finished the second book in her military romances, and has begun hero number 3's story. Her fascination with the USMC is part of family history. Check out her answers on her blog: